“My mother left me two things,” says Thelma of Jackson, Mississippi, “bad genes and bad debt.” In November of 2007, Thelma’s mother passed away and left a then 59-year old Shirley with years of her accumulated medical expenses. “I felt morally obligated to pay my mother’s debts,” adds Thelma, but when, five months later, she lost her job of 35 years on the very day of her 60th birthday, the debts became too much to handle.
Being out of work and in debt is tough at any age but as Thelma says, “when you are 60 or over, its tough to get a job. Companies want younger employees. It’s especially tough after age 60.” She found herself both insulted and desperate for work. “You go to these interviews and they tell you you’re over-qualified, it’s their way of saying that you are too old.” After so many years in the automotive industry, working as a servicing manager for a series of local dealerships, it was all she knew how to do. Then, as the automotive market turned and the dealership where she worked at shut down her entire department, she found herself with a specialized skill set in a shrinking industry.
The timing of these two relative disasters, however, proved to be nearly perfect. Thelma continues, “If I had lost my job one year earlier I don’t think I would have lasted.” Shirley first learned about reverse mortgages from a familiar face — Robert Wagner’s television commercials for Senior Lending Network.“ A friend in Georgia did it too and it worked great. I went online and did as much as I could to learn.”
After living off a meager social security for nearly two years, Thelma was able to secure a reverse mortgage earlier this year. As a single person, with no heirs to leave anything to, she figured that after 35 years of putting her energy and love into her home, “why not get something out of it when I need it.” She was able to maximize the value in her home because she got a “big, clean appraisal with no repairs needed.”
“It was a lifesaver for me at the time,” Thelma says. “At age 62, you don’t want to ruin your credit because you don’t have a job. It was a matter of survival. I was anticipating retirement in my 70’s, not at the early age of 62. But the reverse mortgage took a load off my shoulders.”
Now, Thelma can live in her home and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with cleaning out the remainder of her mother’s debt. She can look to making the most of her time and finding a job that she enjoys doing. “I’m looking for anything. Part-time, full-time. I’m donating time to Habitat For Humanity. I try to do two weekends a month.” Thelma doesn’t consider herself elderly. “I’m a very active and a very young 62 years old. My roots are here. I’m happy here. I’ve traveled around the country but Jackson is home. I’ve never had a thought in my mind about leaving my home — because it’s home.”